TBOX 1-6 (1996-2001)
1996, The First TBOX, and How It All Came To Be (As Told by Christopher Festa)
The entire reason I started TBOX was to have a party without my friends trashing my apartment… and to meet girls, and that’s pretty much it.
IT ALL STARTED BACK IN December 1996, which seems like a long time ago. Close your eyes and try to picture.. there were NO CELL PHONES… maybe a handful of people had them and they were as big as military walkie-talkies. ALMOST NO ONE had e-mail… and there was no Facebook, no YouTube, no Text Messages. If you wanted to communicate with someone, you, like, had to CALL THEM AT HOME and talk to them with your mouth. And if you wanted to meet somebody somewhere, you had to BE ON TIME at a certain place. It was amidst these primitive conditions TBOX emerged from the primordial ooze. For those who knew me (Chris) back in the day, starting in 1994 when I first moved to Chicago, I hosted a “little party” in my Lincoln Park apartment called “Festapalooza” – man, those were fun parties, but within a few years, with my apartment being DESTROYED, and neighbors and landlord hating me, it was time to look at doing something OUTSIDE the house… so the idea of a pub crawl was the logical place to turn. I’d heard of this “12 Bars Of Christmas” idea… so I put the word out to my Accenture (then Andersen Consulting) co-workers, and the date was set… Saturday, December 14, 1996. I left the house at 3:45, arrived at Goose Island Clybourn promptly at 4:00pm for Bar Number One, and…
No one showed up. The bar was empty save for 10 or 12 people I didn’t know. I sat alone at Bar #1, ALONE, and drank a couple of beers, on a bar stool, ALONE, from 4:00 to 4:45. And then, just as I was ready to give up, 2 of my friends showed up… Don Fiala and Ty Sherman. Amazingly, fortuitously, and completely unknowingly at the time, I had a bystander snap what would become a historic photo — the Zapruder Film of TBOX if you will — of me, Don, and Ty, each holding up 1 Finger symbolizing “Bar Number One” – this folks, is how it all started…
We had another quick one, and at 5:00PM we headed to Bar #2, where – amazingly – about 15 other people were waiting. By the end, we had OVER 60 PEOPLE, which was quite a crowd back then. Though the exact schedule is lost to history, the approximate route of TBOX1 was, Goose Island, Clybourn, The Triangle Bar (now US Beer Company), McGee’s, Kelly’s, Glascott’s, Kelsey’s, a few of those other bars in Lincoln Park, and we ended at what was then called “Tailgators” and is now I believe called “Kendall’s”. And then we all just went home, and that was it. There were no badges, no t-shirts, no stickers, no frames, no costumes, no sponsors, no posters, and no banners. There were just the 2 Boxes of Cap’n Crunch that I brought with me. No pomp and circumstance, no majesty, no drama, just 60 people walking from bar to bar, a few of them with Santa Hats. And that was TBOX1.
The Second Year: TBOX2, 1997
TBOX1 really did not leave much of a mark, and even I did not think much about it over the next weeks and months. And it was not AT ALL clear whether I would do it again. As far as I can determine, it was not even called “TBOX” at that point… it was Just Another Twelve Bars Of Christmas, just another of the many little pub crawls I had every few months for my Accenture Co–Workers.
Friday, September 12, 1997 also marked the 4th, and what was the Final, “Festapalooza” Party. And right after that, my company had sent me to work in London and other parts of Europe long term, and I thought I might be gone indefinitely. Around Thanksgiving, however, I found out I’d be sent home for most of December and January. And just by chance, I remembered about the Christmas pub crawl, and said, “why not do it again?“ So from a hotel room near Picadilly Circus, I drafted the TBOX2 schedule. I called a few people, sent out an Interoffice “Electronic Mail”, and got back in the country the Thursday before. And on that Saturday in 1997, starting at McGee’s on Webster, we had a grand total of about 80 people for the crawl through Lincoln Park. And it was fun, but really honestly, still, it was just another little bar crawl…
The Third Year: TBOX3, 1998, The First Great Leap Forward
TBOX1 and TBOX2 (which were not even called TBOX yet), were cute and fuzzy little affairs, but things really “jumped up a notch” the next year on December 5, 1998. I honestly don’t remember the planning process for TBOX3, but thanks to this newfangled invention called “E Mail”, you could actually sit at your computer and send messages all at once to people outside your own company! And so, I thought we might break 100 or more, as the word was spreading.
I woke up that Saturday around 1pm. Can you imagine? TBOX didn’t start until 4PM back then! You could actually sleep as late as you wanted and not miss a thing. I think about that sometimes when I wake up at 6:15am to get ready now! When I went outiide, I noticed, “hey, it’s not freezing out” — and not only was it not freezing, it was SEVENTY-ONE DEGREES (notice no coats in the pictures). Strange things were afoot…
Bill Ford, Greg Goze, and a few other close friends came over to my old apartment on Wrightwood about 3:00, and per our usual routine, we ate peanut-butter-and-banana sandwiches before heading out. As we arrived at Bar #1, amazingly,we found about 100 people or so were there already – which at the time, was mind-blowing. And for some reason it just popped in my head, “Let’s Count How Many People are Here!” But how? Let’s write on everyone’s hand with a marker! And so, one of the first great TBOX traditions, the “Numbers”, was born.
By the time we made it from Goose Island Clybourn, thru Lincoln Park, and to the former Gaslight Corner on Halsted, it was still crazy-warm, and we’d counted about 350 total people. We also went to Kincade’s, The Store, Deacon Brodie’s, Corner Pocket, Hidden Shamrock, and a few other Lincoln Park places. Some people even got crazy and wore Santa Hats! And we signed certificates for people who had gone “wire to wire” — and that’s how that started. And even as everyone made their way home, it was still about 70F, and I woke up the next morning, realizing TBOX, as it was now called, had increased over 400%. It was on!
TBOX4, 1999, and the Big Move to Wrigleyville
TBOX3 was fantastic — it was really warm outside, everybody had a blast, and attendance has skyrocketed. Since I expected at least as many people the next year,thanks to this “Internet” thing, I knew that the tiny taverns if Lincoln Park would no longer hold us. So I decided to go where the bigger bars were… WRIGLEYVILLE. And quite a fateful decision that was.
In 1999, I billed “TBOX4″ as the last bar crawl of the 20th Century, and decided to move the starting time a little earlier – to 3PM. And honestly, I was a little worried that people would think that was too early to start drinking. Well, I guess we all have some crazy ideas when we’re young.
TBOX4 began at the now-long-gone LAKEVIEW LINKS,on Wilton just north of Belmont. It was then on to SHEFFIELDS, and on to some of the familiar bars of Wrigley which are part of TBOX to this day, such as Redmond’s, Cubby Bear, and Sluggers. TBOX4 ended at ABNER’S YARD, which is now Mullen’s, with a private party upstairs.
Anyway, it was a VERY HAPPY and VERY FESTIVE TBOX, and the first where I had my own little website to promote it and put up some pix (efesta.com) We had a total of about 650 people — still counted with markers by hand — but despite the success, there was no guarantee it wouldn’t be the last… at that time, I thought it was likely I’d be married within the year, and that i might be moving to California, and that I might be become a dot-com multi-millionaire. Had that been the case, TBOX4 would have been a superb farewell to life in 20th Century Chicago. As we rang in the millennium, terrified of this Y2K disaster that might happen, the future of TBOX was far, far from certain.
The Wilderness Years: TBOX 5 and TBOX6, 2000-2001
Not to put too fine a point on it, but compared to December 1999, things pretty much sucked for me in December 2000. Among other things, I was working 14-hour days out in Silicon Valley for my now not-gonna-make-me-rich, about-to-go-under dot com, I was getting to come home to Chicago less and less, and things were not nearly as carefree and pleasant as they had been before. How I longed for the 90s! But as fall rolled around, and I was now single again, and working in the social wasteland of “Man Jose, California”, I was getting a few emails, WOULD THERE BE ANOTHER TBOX? Reflecting upon the matter deep in my soul, I said Yes. Yes. Yes, there would be a TBOX5!
This time, I decided to actually do a little planning. I made one trip home around Mid-November to scout the bars and talk to a few bar managers. I told them the date we’d be coming through, to be ready, give us some drink specials, and then I sent out my email AND used this other new thing called “EVITE” to spread the word. And when I got home for TBOX5, starting again at Lakeview Links, there were already 400 people or so at Bar #1 at 2PM. By the end of the crawl, we topped out at just over 900 total attendees – another increase of about 50% over the previous year. This was the first year TBOX seemed to take on a stormy, husky, brawling, feel.. the first year I remember not exactly being able to meet and see almost everyone on the crawl. And yes, we were still writing the numbers on everyone’s hands, which by this time was growing tedious. Although the event was a success, sadly, I had to go back to California the next Monday, and leave all the memories behind, again, not knowing what the future would hold…
2001, as for many Americans, was also not the happiest of years. In the summer, my company had gone out of business, I was unemployed, another relationship had ended, I had given up my apartment in Chicago. I decided to take a long, solo cross-country road trip over the summer, which was fantastic, and I was planning to leave on a trip for Europe to further help “find myself” and use my last frequent flyer miles. I bought my ticket to fly from SFO to Madrid, where I was going to drive around for 4-5 weeks and then meet some friends in Switzerland and drive to Oktoberfest, so I got all packed up the evening of Monday, September 10th to leave on the morning of… 9/11/2001. And so, that trip never happenned. And of course, everyone’s mood, all fall, was less than festive. I ended up just taking another month-long car trip around the US, which was great, and by late October, I found myself housesitting for my friend Michelle in LA (who I refer to as “LA Michelle”), doing almost nothing but going to the Coffee Bean and Tea Leaf every day and surfing the web, when the emails started to come in from Chicago, “Hey what about TBOX this year??” And it wasn’t much of a debate, honestly, war on terror or not, TBOX and the American Way were going forward! TBOX6 was ON.
Once again, I did most of my planning remotely, from Santa Monica, and I just flew into town the Thursday before to stay at my friend Danahy’s old apartment on Armitage, on the couch, which, was scary, and, I hope they’ve burned it by now. Everything was going along smoothly, but on Friday Morning, my cell phone just started ringing and ringing — the calls were from strangers — asking about TBOX the next day. Unbeknownst to me, it had been listed in this new web site called Metromix, with my personal cell # as the contact number to call for more information — and I spent all day answering the phone.
TBOX6 grew even more, and we ended up with about 1200 people. Before the event, I had a Pre-Event Breakfast at Clarke’s on Belmont with 7 friends, and to get a jump on the numbering, I wrote the Number “1″ on my friend Lionel’s hand, and he became the first “Unbadged” #1 at TBOX. And that’s how it started being a big deal to be Number One…
The following Monday Morning, I had to leave Chicago again, and once again, not knowing if I would return from my time in the wilderness, and the future of TBOX pretty much being the last thing on my mind. Would the show go on? Click Here to Find Out.